You know, every now and then a couple of events occur that kind of bring together and focus what you have been thinking or observing. That happened to me in the following two events:
Hilary Rosen and the Non-Argument
I am one of those sadly deluded individuals who believed that once the facts were on the table, minds could be changed. This is basis of the Enlightenment, that reasonable rational people, pushing prejudice, religion, and superstition out of the way, could arrive at truth through rational processes. The last 12 years or so have disavowed me of that belief. But I have, as all good engineers and scientists would, looked for the why. Why do people hang on to beliefs that are demonstratively wrong?
Of course I have read George Lakoff on framing, and Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness, and these ideas/books show us how we can misperceive, but give us tools to reach truth and guard against blocking truth. But Chris Mooney’s asked the same questions I was asking, why obvious truth was not getting through, and in his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science, I believe he hit on a model that strikes home. It goes something like this: Our human brain evolved as two separate entities. Brain 1 was more primitive and were automatic responses like fight or flight (emotional reactions). The second part of our brain, Brain 2, evolved around intellect and was the more slow, but the reasoning part of our being. Our memories and neural patterns are not like a computer, but are built up around an emotion context. So when the brain processes an event, the memories and feelings around that event that are energized are a function of this neural pattern. That would be a rough approximation of George Lakoff’s framing.
The first thing about an idea or an event we feel is that emotional reaction of our more primitive brain, Brain 1, in many cases on a subconscious level. And those feelings, memories, and selected information about that event are flooded into our reasoning brain and in many case overwhelms it, long before Brain 2 kicks into action. He calls it motivated reasoning. From his book:
“We’ve inherited an Enlightenment tradition of thinking of beliefs as if they’re somehow disembodied, suspended above us in the ether, and all you have to do is float up the right bit of correct information and wrong beliefs will dispel, like bursting a soap bubble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Beliefs are physical. To attack them is like attacking one part of a person’s anatomy, almost like pricking his or her skin (or worse). And motivated reasoning might perhaps best be thought of as a defensive mechanism that is triggered by a direct attack upon a belief system, physically embodied in the brain.”
So with that model in mind, let’s examine the reaction to Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney not working a day in her life. When I heard that, saw the actual interview, and read the words, I found nothing in there about stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home moms are just one subset of people who have not worked a day in their life. She was, in my mind, referring to not having been in the workplace and experienced the need to work or the challenges that brought, irrespective of why she wasn’t in the workplace. But most women, regardless of political persuasion, heard something entirely different, and that was a defamation of stay-at-home moms.
I think we are seeing what Chis Mooney was describing in action. I had no emotion connection here and so I dealt with it as a simple non-threatening fact. She had not been in the work place a day in her life. She had never faced a tough economic choice. Mother’s on the other hand, have a whole set of strong emotions about their choices, or lack thereof, around child raising. That statement probably activated many strong emotional states including guilt, anger, pride, second guessing, all around their role as a mother and the choices they made. They heard that statement as a derogatory description of stay-at-home Moms. Am I right about what Hilary was saying or are most women’s initial reaction? I guess that is not the point right now, the point is that emotion is a strong force that clouds an issue, and maybe negates my wished for state of rational human beings. By the way, I think I am right. See Keli Goff.
The 1% Or How Inequality (and Republican Defense of it) is Destroying our Economy
Tuesday in my blog I wrote about how the transfer of wealth to the 1% is destroying our economy at two levels. One, it is destroying the middle class and their ability to have disposable income to buy things and sustain existing and new businesses. Second, because the wealthy controlled all the political power, they are able to maintain the status quo, stifling innovation and change that would reinvigorate our economy with new emerging industries. One might rephrase this last item as is money in politics really the problem or is it a symptom of just only a few people having money to control our politicians?
At any rate, along comes an article about two French Economists who have been studying incomes and their distribution (For Two Economists, the Buffett Rule is Just a Start). As an aside, it was the Frenchman Alex de Tocquevilles’s Democracy in America in 1831, that originally put a finger on what was so different and great about America. What these two current day economists found was that the level of inequality in America is “as acute as it was before the Great Depression”, and that this has occurred over the last 30 years (the Reagan Revolution). As they said:
“The United States is getting accustomed to a completely crazy level of inequality. People say that reducing inequality is radical. I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical.”
“In a way, the United States is becoming like Old Europe, which is very strange in historical perspective. The United States used to be very egalitarian, not just in spirit but in actuality. Inequality of wealth and income used to be much larger in France. And very high taxes on the very rich – that was invented in the United States.”
Oh no, we are not becoming an oligarchy of the rich and stifling our economy, except people from the outside can see this phenomenon clearly. But hey, these are Frenchmen. What do they know? They had that WMD thing all wrong when they fought Bush on invading Iraq didn’t they? Do we still call them freedom fries?